Stamford Bridge, London
December 29, 2013; 16:00 GMT
Third-placed Chelsea will take on fourth-placed Liverpool at Stamford Bridge in a tantalizing encounter that could define the title race come 2014. Chelsea have slowly but surely gone about their business in the League and sit comfortably in the table, just two points from the top, while high-flying Liverpool have really added another flavor to the title race this season with their swash-buckling performances. Something special, or controversial for that matter, is always on the cards when these two teams collide, and nothing less is expected on Sunday.
There’s no love lost between the two sides, but as far as Jose Mourinho and Bredan Rodgers are concerned, there’s only mutual admiration that they have for each other. Rodgers learnt his trade under the guidance of Mourinho, when he first coached the youth team and then the reserve side with the Portuguese manager was in-charge of the West London club between 2004 to 2007.
Liverpool have just lost once to Chelsea in the last 8 games, and that was in a FA Cup final; otherwise the Londoners have failed to sparkle against the Merseyside team. Ever since Carlo Ancelotti’s team secured a double in 2009-10, defeating United, Arsenal and Liverpool twice along the way, Chelsea have struggled to perform against Liverpool. The Fernando Torres transfer added further intensity to this fixture and the former Liverpool superstar has failed to either win or score in 6 matches since. Will he be 7th time lucky? Only time will tell.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Ramires picked up his fifth yellow card of the season and thus will be suspended for this game, while Ryan Bertrand and Marco van Ginkel remain sidelined due to injuries. Other than these three, Mourinho will have rest of the squad to choose from for the match against Liverpool.
Chelsea have generally started with a 4-2-3-1 formation this season, but Mourinho hasn’t shied away from 4-3-3 to get the best out of the players at his disposal. In defence, Ashley Cole and David Luiz, who’d started against Swansea, are expected to be replaced by Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill, with Ivanovic and Terry completing the back five along with Petr Cech. Ramires’ suspension will see Lampard return to the starting line-up to partner Mikel in central midfield, with in-form Hazard playing ahead of them on the left, Oscar through the middle and one of Willain, Schurrle or Mata will complete the third band. Fernando Torres will most definitely replace the misfiring Eto’o at the tip of the attack.
Oscar is second on the list of highest tackles and not without a reason. He may be a focal point in Chelsea’s attacks but without the ball, his contributions are equally crucial. He made 5 successful tackles against Swansea and on Sunday, his role will again be important. The better he plays, more difficult it will be for Liverpool, particularly for Lucas/Allen to build up play from the back and feed those ahead of them.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic; Cahill; Terry; Azpilicueta; Mikel, Lampard; Oscar, Willian, Hazard; Torres
Brendan Rodgers will be without the services of Enrique, Coates, Sturridge, Gerrard and Flanagan for this crucial encounter.
In a shape more closely resembling 4-3-3, Rodgers is likely to stick to the same eleven that did so well against Manchester City. With Mignolet in goal, the back-four will comprise of Glen Johnson (right-back), Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel (centre backs) and Aly Cissokho (left back). Lucas, Allen and Henderson will be deployed in central midfield and will be entrusted with the responsibility of dominating the central midfield and making their numerical advantage count against Mikel and Lampard. Further forward, the offensive line will have Coutinho on the left, Sterling on the right and Luis Suarez playing through the middle.
Liverpool’s game revolves around the fluidity of the 4-3-3 system and their devastating counter-attacking football with a top marksman such as Suarez at the helm. Furthermore, Henderson and Allen press the opponents from higher up the pitch, forcing them into mistakes. The problem is Chelsea’s strategy broadly has also be awfully similar. So one of the two sides will have to grab the game by the scruff of its neck and attack from the onset. Liverpool are in better attacking form than Chelsea and the latter are anyway expected to begin cautiously to allow Mourinho time to gauge his opponents, so the onus is on the Reds to change their strategy, attack early and try to score the first goal, thereby pushing Chelsea to come out of their shell and be more adventurous. That will open up space between the lines for Liverpool to later exploit through their natural counter-attacking game-play.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Mignolet; Johnson, Sakho, Skrtel, Cissokho; Lucas, Allen, Henderson; Coutinho, Sterling, Suarez
- Chelsea have won 9 of their last 10 home matches in the Premier League.
- Liverpool have conceded at least 2 goals in 5 of their last 6 away matches in the Premier League.
- Chelsea have won only two of their last 13 Premier League matches with Liverpool (W2, D4, L7). But five of Chelsea’s last seven league wins against Liverpool have come under Jose Mourinho.
- Liverpool have only won one of their last six away games in the league (D2, L3): a 5-0 win at Tottenham.
- They have scored 29 goals in their last 14 trips to London in the Premier League (2.07 per game).
- The Reds have conceded a total of only three goals in their last nine end-of-year games.
Statistics courtesy Whoscored.com and BBC Sport.
Player To Watch Out For
Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Chelsea have quite a few match-winners on their ranks, who are capable enough of turning a game on its head by virtue of their individual brilliance and Liverpool also have other players who may prove to be decisive on Sunday, but presently Luis Suarez is playing at an altogether different level. On present form, he seems peerless not just in the Premier League but in world football. In 13 games so far in the league, Suarez has scored 19 goals and has 5 assists to his name. With all due respect to other players, he has single-handedly kept Liverpool near the top of the table and has almost guaranteed Champions League football next season. Such has been his impact on the league ever since he returned to the fold after serving his 8 match ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic in this fixture last season. Chelsea will have to be very, very careful and all defenders will have to be in top form if they are to stop the Uruguayan from scoring at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool
Liverpool are in better form than Chelsea at the moment and had the West London club being managed by anyone other than Jose Mourinho, an away win for Liverpool would have certainly been on the cards. Chelsea haven’t managed to do well against the Reds of late, but with him at the helm, the form factor might count for little. A scored draw seems a likely result.
Blast From The Past